Tag Archives: St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi

Today, we remember an event that occurred 792 years ago, that began on October 3, 1226 –Francis of Assisi passed from this life. History tells us that Saint Francis passed away in the evening hours, it was, liturgically speaking, already October 4th.

The record of the events surrounding Francis’ transitus tells that his health had been sharply declining, he had asked to come home to Assisi. At the bishop’s residence in the city was being cared for and as he became aware that his death was imminent, “he asked to be carried to St Mary of the Portiuncula so that he might yield up the spirit of life where he had received the spirit of grace.” The Poor Man of Assisi exhorted and consoled his companions saying, “he asked that the book of the Gospels be brought and the Gospel according to John be read from the place that begins ‘Before the Feast of Passover’ (Jn 13:1). He himself, insofar as he was able, broke out with the Psalm: ‘I have cried to the Lord with my voice’ (Ps. 142). . . At last, when all God’s mysteries were fulfilled in him, the blessed man fell asleep in the Lord.” (Bonaventure, Major Legend, 14.5-6).

Bonaventure continues: “Larks are birds that love the light. . . . but at the hour of the holy man’s passing, although it was twilight and night was to follow, they came in a great flock over the roof of the house and, whirling around for a long time with unusual joy, gave clear and evident testimony to the glory of the saint.”

May Saint Francis intercede for us before the Throne of Grace.

St Francis of Assisi

Today is the feast of St Francis of Assisi.

One aspect of the saint’s life is his role a as a peacemaker. To illustrate this role is the story of Francis meeting the angry wolf in the town of Gubbio. According to the narrative the wolf terrorized animals and people alike.

According to the Fioretti, the principal collection of stories of the saint’s life,

“Francis placed his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, master of all creatures. Protected neither by shield or helmet, only arming himself with the sign of the Cross, he bravely set out of the town with his companion, putting his faith in the Lord who makes those who believe in him walk without injury on an asp … and trample not merely on a wolf but even a lion and a dragon.”

Some local peasants followed the two brothers, keeping a safe distance. Finally the wolf saw Francis and came running as if to attack him. The story continues:

“The saint made the sign of the Cross, and the power of God . . . stopped the wolf, making it slow down and close its cruel mouth. Then Francis called to it, ‘Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to hurt me or anyone.”

The wolf then came close to Francis, lowered its head and then lay down at his feet as though it had become a lamb. Francis then censured the wolf for its former cruelties, especially for killing human beings made in the image of God, thus making a whole town into its deadly enemy.

“But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed by you any more, and after they have forgiven you your past crimes, neither men nor dogs will pursue you anymore.”

The wolf responded with gestures of submission “showing that it willingly accepted what the saint had said and would observe it.”

Francis promised the wolf that the people of Gubbio would henceforth “give you food every day as long as you shall live, so that you will never again suffer hunger.” In return, the wolf had to give up attacking both animal and man. “And as Saint Francis held out his hand to receive the pledge, the wolf also raised its front paw and meekly and gently put it in Saint Francis’s hand as a sign that it had given its pledge.”

Francis led the wolf back into Gubbio, where the people of the town met them in the market square. Here Francis preached a sermon in which he said calamities were permitted by God because of our sins and that the fires of hell are far worse than the jaws of a wolf which can only kill the body. He called on the people to do penance in order to be “free from the wolf in this world and from the devouring fire of hell in the next world.” He assured them that the wolf standing at his side would now live in peace with them, but that they were now obliged to feed him every day. He pledged himself as “bondsman for Brother Wolf.”

After living peacefully within the walls of Gubbio for two years, “the wolf grew old and died, and the people were sorry, because whenever it went through the town, its peaceful kindness and patience reminded them of the virtues and holiness of Saint Francis.”

Is it possible that the story is true? Or is the wolf a storyteller’s metaphor for violent men? While the story works on both levels, there is reason to believe there was indeed a wolf of Gubbio. A Franciscan friend, Sister Rosemary Lynch, told me that during restoration work the bones of a wolf were found buried within the church in Gubbio.

Francis became, in a sense, the soldier he had dreamed of becoming as a boy; he was just as willing as the bravest soldier to lay down his life in defense of others. There was only this crucial difference. His purpose was not the defeat but the conversion of his adversary; this required refusing the use of weapons of war because no one has ever been converted by violence. He always regarded conversion as a realistic goal. After all, if God could convert Francis, anyone might be converted.

“They are truly peacemakers,” Saint Francis wrote in his Admonitions, “who are able to preserve their peace of mind and heart for love of our Lord Jesus Christ, despite all that they suffer in this world.”

— an extract from Ladder of the Beatitudes by Jim Forest

St Francis of Assisi

st-francisPraised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

A word about this image:

The fresco on the left is the earliest, and is at the Benedictine abbey of St Scholastica in the Sacro Speco Shrine at Subiaco. It opens a window.

The Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi

stigmata-of-francisThe Franciscans mostly observe this event in the life of Saint Francis turned into a feast day of the Stigmata. It is recalled that Francis, in meditation on Mount Alvernia in the Apennines, in September 1224, received a vision of a six winged angel. Francis recalls that he was visited by angel and the Life-saving wounds of the crucified Lord. That is, he was left with wounds in his hands, feet, and side as though he had been crucified. The wound in his side often seeped blood.

Saint Francis and his conversion story, from the beginning, included a very great devotion and veneration for Jesus Christ crucified. He was constant in this aspect of the Paschal Mystery until he died.

Pope Benedict XI gave permission for the Friars to have an annual liturgical commemoration on this day the memory of this extraordinary event attested by reliable witnesses.

Transitus of Francis

death of FrancisThis evening let’s recall the Transitus (the passing from life to Life) of Saint Francis. This image from a fresco by Giotto in the Bardi chapel in the Franciscan church of Santa Croce (Florence), fittingly captures the intensity of the experience. One that we know very well.

As you know Catholic prayer begins its daily observance in the evening. So, tomorrow is the feast of Francis of Assisi, yet tonight at Vespers (evening prayer) the feast day begins. The Church remembers the death of Francis, hence, in the evening of 3 October 1226.

Father Daniel Grigassy, OFM, remarks: The Transitus has become a significant, even necessary annual event. To ritually revisit the story of Francis’s passing is vital. Without it something significant is missing (from our celebration of his feast). It specifies the living memory of Francis; it intensifies our common commitment to follow Christ in the way of the poor man of Assisi.” Indeed, what kind of person could say, “Welcome Sister Death”? It reminds us that Francis had been dying to himself and being born to newer, deeper levels of life since he first began following in the footsteps of Jesus. This last step would complete his journey and bring him to total union with the Risen Christ and with all people in the fullness of God’s life.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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